DePaul welcomes Hannah Retzkin, the new sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist

Hannah Retzkin replaces Rima Shah as the new sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist. (Jeff Carrion / DEPAUL UNIVERSITY)
Hannah Retzkin replaces Rima Shah as the new sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist. (Jeff Carrion / DEPAUL UNIVERSITY)

The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) has hired a new team member to expand on-campus education efforts.

Hannah Retzkin, the newest sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist in HPW, wants to continue the office’s collaborations and programming at DePaul.

“We’re doing already so many great things,” Retzkin said. “I’m just interested in expanding on those programs and continuing to partner with campus partners, students and outside organizations, but also adding my own flare and my own voice to presentations and that kind of thing.”

But more importantly, Retzkin said she hopes to develop a safe and welcoming environment for students to share their personal experiences.

“What we know is when someone first shares their narrative to someone, if they receive support and they feel listened to and they’re not blamed, their healing process is going to be more positive,” she said.

Shannon Suffoletto, director of HPW, said the office was glad to have someone like Retzkin joining the team.

“We’re so excited to welcome Hannah to the DePaul family” Suffoletto said. “She has a lot of expertise and experience in the field to bring to this position.”

Retzkin said her job combines education and advocacy — something that works well with her professional and educational background.

While earning her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University, Retzkin completed 40 hours of training to serve as an advocate. Her training led her to volunteer with several organizations in the community.

Afterwards, Retzkin decided to move to Chicago, where she earned her master’s degree in higher education from Loyola University. Retzkin then began volunteering with Rape Victim Advocates (RVA), which entailed a 56-hour training to serve as both an advocate and a medical advocate.

“When someone experiences a sexual assault, they call in an advocate to help with the process,” she said. “I had to understand the rape kit, help provide resources and just be there for the survivor.”

After earning her degree from Loyola, she became a coordinator for Student Advocacy Services at Northeastern Illinois University. This job, Retzkin said, required her to focus on a “broader umbrella” of services, which included sexual and relationship violence, homelessness, and food and security issues.

“Any crisis a student was experiencing, I could help them find resources,” she said.

Despite the serious nature of the job, Retzkin said the programming aspect can be very informative and enjoyable.

“The education component can be really fun because we can have really interesting conversations about conventional sex, and really teach folks what a consensual relationship looks like,” she said.

Part of that education comes from learning about all the ins and outs of consent.

“Some of them might not even know what consent is, some of them might just be learning about sex from pornography and they’ve never had a conversation about that,” she said. “Something they might think is consent, for instance, loosening someone up with alcohol. That’s something we can see in the media but then in reality that’s not consent.”

Another component of education, Retzkin said, is bystander intervention training. HWP offers training for bystanders called Vinny Vow.

“The bystander effect is kind of like someone else will do something, or I don’t know if I want to step in or maybe this is consensual,” she said. “We’re trying to empower bystanders to jump in and learn different tactics to intervene.”

Retzkin said she is proud to work at DePaul and strongly supports its Vincentian values.

“DePaul’s a very mission-driven institution, and I really appreciate that and enjoy working in an institution with a strong mission and values,” she said.

The Department of Justice reports 1-in-5 college-aged women and 1-in-16 college-aged men have experienced sexual violence.

Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports 1-in-3 women and 1-in-4 men experience some form of relationship violence.

But Retzkin said it’s important to keep in mind the validity of the statistical data.

“Anything related to interpersonal violence is underreported,” she said.

The CDC also reports 1-in-6 boys and 1-4 girls experience sexual violence, which Retzkin said is just as important to note.

“Folks are coming to campus with a history of sexual violence already,” she said.

Cassie Forster-Broten, who is a graduate assistant with the Take Back the Halls (TBTH) teen violence prevention initiative at DePaul, said awareness is crucial.

“Considering the epidemic-like quantity of sexual assaults on college campuses, events that promote education and understanding of issues like consent, assault and rape are vital to the creation of a safer environment for students,” she said.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) takes place this month and is dedicated to increasing awareness of interpersonal violence on college campuses.

“The events work to create a dialogue around issues that are often made invisible,” Forster-Broten said. “They also work to make survivors of sexual assault feel like they are not alone and that their experience will not be erased or belittled.”

Based on the statistical data, Retzkin said we have all been in contact with someone touched by sexual or relationship violence.

“We’re all impacted by it,” she said. “Even if we’re not personally experiencing it with a partner, someone we know has. The more we understand, the more we can provide support and a non-judgmental space.”

Retzkin said it’s important to understand the cyclical nature of assault.

“Someone doesn’t just go on a first date with someone and then they are hit,” she said. “It’s a cycle that builds upon itself and there’s a lot of different ways that perpetrators of relationship violence establish control and power that make it tough and difficult for someone to really leave that person.”

Retzkin said the way society views this type of violence is important.

“It’s our responsibility to create a culture where victims are not blamed,” she said. “We want to keep a dialogue going so folks can share their narratives or their truths without fear.”

But Ellen Goese, a core organizer for DePaul Feminist Front, said there’s a more important focus to keep in mind during SAAM.

“What we need, more than prevention, is to focus on supporting survivors rather than just constantly reminding them to report if they have been assaulted,” she said.

Goese said it’s more important to focus on the rapists rather than the bystanders and potential victims.

“This marginalizes the very people who should be centered during SAAM,” she said.

Goese said that change should start at the university level.

“Our campus must talk about rape culture, which pervades every aspect of society, including DePaul,” she said. “That would mean DePaul as a university would need to hold itself accountable for allowing rape culture to harm our community.”

Retzkin said the intricacies of interpersonal violence make it a difficult topic to openly discuss.

“It’s a very complex and pervasive issue,” she said. “I think that college campuses are a microcosm of our society in general and reflect back on what’s happening in the larger scale of society.”

Students experiencing sexual assault can also contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-877-863-6338 or the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline at 1-888-293-2080.